Despite claims, Trump's company charges Secret Service high rates

It's an inherently bizarre dynamic: the Secret Service is indirectly paying Trump while also protecting him and his family.
A secret service agent keeps a watch on U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a rally in Vista, California
A secret service agent in Vista, Calif. on May 22, 2016.Mike Blake / REUTERS

The Secret Service's relationship with Donald Trump and his team has long faced troubles. In 2017, for example, one of the president's lawyers suggested the Secret Service may have been partially to blame for the infamous 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between a Kremlin-linked attorney and top members of Trump's team. It prompted the agency to make a rare entry into a political debate in order to defend the agents' actions.

Soon after, there was an unfortunate leasing dispute between the Secret Service and the New York building the president still owns. There were related budget concerns when the Secret Service struggled to cover the costs of protecting 18 members of the Trump family.

But the Washington Post today brings attention to a striking new area of concern between the president's business operation and the agency.

President Trump's company charges the Secret Service for the rooms agents use while protecting him at his luxury properties -- billing U.S. taxpayers at rates as high as $650 per night, according to federal records and people who have seen receipts.

Those charges, compiled here for the first time, show that Trump has an unprecedented -- and largely hidden -- business relationship with his own government. When Trump visits his clubs in Palm Beach, Fla., and Bedminster, N.J., the service needs space to post guards and store equipment.

Trump's company says it charges only minimal fees. But Secret Service records do not show that.

The Post's full report is well worth your time, in part because it's interesting how the reporters put the pieces together to learn about the charges.

That said, there are a few broader political elements to keep in mind. The first is that Team Trump appears to have been dishonest about the nature of the arrangement. Eric Trump, for example, said in a Yahoo Finance interview last year that the Trump Organization effectively does not charge anything to those who travel with the president. "[T]hey stay at our properties for free -- meaning, like, cost for housekeeping," Eric Trump claimed.

Whether he knew this to be false is unclear, but there's now ample evidence that the president's business charges the Secret Service -- and by extension, us -- quite a bit.

The second is there's still no meaningful transparency surrounding any of this. The Post's reporting offers an important look behind the curtain, but it conceded that the "full extent of the Secret Service's payments to Trump's company is not known," and the agency "has not listed them in public databases of federal spending."

The article quoted Jordan Libowitz, of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), saying, "It is more than a little disconcerting, knowing this is going on, and not knowing what the actual numbers are. That's kind of crazy that we know the president is benefiting from the presidency, and we do not know how. We do not know how many taxpayer dollars are in his pocket."

And finally, there's a foundational question that's hard to shake: why does the Secret Service have to indirectly pay Trump while also protecting him and his family? After all, the president still owns and profits from these properties, so when the Trump Organization sends the Secret Service an invoice, and the agency uses taxpayer to pay the bill, Trump ends up benefiting from the arrangement.

The Post's report added that the Republican "has spent more than 342 days -- a third of his entire presidency -- at his private clubs and hotels." In more ways than one, that means more money in his pocket.

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